State House wrap-up: Early intervention mandate gains

The New Hampshire House passed a bill Wednesday that would mandate early intervention therapies for disabled children that supporters say may have a short-term impact on health insurance premiums but should pay for themselves over the long term.

The measure’s impact on small group health plans is estimated to be about 0.7 percent, and 2.5 percent on individual premiums.

The bill would require that health insurers pay for therapies for children up to 3 years old, when school districts’ early intervention programs kick in, capping the cost at $3,500 a year per child. Anthem already does this, but other companies have pulled back from such programs, which are increasingly going out of business due to lack of funding, said Rep. Jill Shaffer Hammond, D-Peterborough, in support of the measure.

“It is a mandate, and it will add to the cost,” said Hammond “But it is a very small contribution.” Reaching these kids as early as possible prevents a greater expense down the line, she said

Rep. John Hunt, R-Rindge, said that the an incremental increase amounts to serious money when it comes to a multi-billion-dollar industry, and that the mandate focuses only on small businesses that cover fewer than 50 employees, while self-employed businesspeople primarily buy individual policies.

“Do you want to help small businesses?” he said. “Do you want to keep insurance rates down or pass one more mandate?”

The House voted 214-135 to pass the bill — Senate Bill 93 – which, because it has been amended, must go back to the Senate for approval.

In a related move, the House voted to kill a Senate bill that would require that insurance companies give chiropractors the same co-pays that primary care physicians receive.

In other legislative business on Wednesday:

• The House passed a 2.5-cent tax on a gallon of milk. The money was originally going to be used to subsidize farmers, but the bill was amended so that it would go instead to purchase agricultural easements. Farmers would be subsidized through the general fund instead.

Supporters said that the relatively small tax and small subsidy, compared to subsidies given to wood-burning plants and the research and development tax credit, noting that local dairy farmers are being wiped out by competition from agribusiness from the West.

But opponents, led by Neal Kurk, R-Weare, said he didn’t oppose the subsidy so much as the tax and the conversation program. The Land and Community Heritage Investment Program, or LCHIP, he argued, already purchases farm easements, and it didn’t make sense to set up an “F-CHIP.” He added that lawmakers should be “lac-tax intolerant” when it comes to putting a surcharge on milk because, “Next, you will be taxing motherhood.”

The House passed the bill, 201-131, but both chambers will have another go at the question, since it first goes to the House Ways and Means Committee, and if it survives another House vote, the amended version has to go back the Senate for approval.

Even then it may not make it pass Gov. John Lynch, if he views it as a sales tax, which he has pledged to veto.

• The House agreed to permanently ban incineration of construction and demolition debris, sending the bill to Governor Lynch, who is a strong supporter of the measure and is expected to sign it.

The ban caps a long struggle against C&D incineration launched after New Hampshire Business Review first revealed plans by Bioenergy to open a C&D-burning plant in Hopkinton, with a permit that would allow it to emit over 2 tons of lead.

Opponents of the ban worried that it would increase disposal costs, hurting the construction industry.

The Senate tacked on an amendment to the bill that would allow towns to burn C&D waste at transfer stations for three years in a controlled manner and on an occasional basis, an amendment the House accepted Tuesday, clearing the way for the governor’s signature.

• The House passed, without debate, an intellectual property business loan program, to be administering by the Business Finance Authority, with the state guaranteeing such loans up to a maximum of $250,000. The 10-year loans shall not exceed 75 percent of the appraised value of intellectual property. Supporters argued that the bill will help attract new high-tech businesses to the state. The bill also goes to the Lynch, who is expected to sign it. – BOB SANDERS

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